Translating “Dilly-Dally, Shilly-Shally” Was a Drag

By now, it’s no secret that Final Fantasy VII Remake assumes familiarity with not only the original FFVII, but the franchise it spawned. Drawing from spin-off games, novels, and even a movie that expand on the story, FFVIIR is sort of a celebration of FFVII in its entirety. So, naturally, players will get more out of it after immersing themselves in the media empire FFVII became.

With that in mind, some people are likely to be watching Advent Children — the sequel film — for the first time. As with anything Final Fantasy, there’s no shortage of localization choices to talk about, so an AC article was inevitable.

In particular, I wanted to talk about Tifa’s “Dilly-dally, shilly-shally” quote. I’ll try not to unnecessarily spoil anything, but a minor Advent Children spoiler is unavoidable in this scene. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with it, here’s the scene in English:

The dialogue is awkward, but the gist is that Tifa wants Cloud to stop moping and start moseying! Having saved the world once, already, Cloud’s no stranger to overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. So why should this be any different?

The word choice of “dilly-dally, shilly-shally” is a weird one, though. Luckily Reno’s there to explain, huh? We of course know that ‘dilly-dallying’ is an English expression for aimless wandering. Further, taking a word and starting it with something like ‘sh-‘ or ‘shm-‘ discards the original word as something worthless.

Yiddish text, which is included in the caption below.
By the way, that practice comes from from שמ (schm-), a generally-negative prefix used in Yiddish words like schmaltzy (overly sentimental) or schmuck (fool, useless person). These were adopted as loanwords by Americans.

So, not only is the wording awkward, but the phrase itself is unmistakably American English slang. These are telltale signs that something got lost in localization. Let’s compare it to the Japanese version, and see if we can figure out the original intent.

JapaneseEnglish DubDirect Translation
You’re going to give up and die,
is that it?
So it is.
“With things as they are, if I die, that’s fine.”
…Are you thinking something like that?
I thought so.
There’s no cure.
There’s no cure.
Yeah, but that’s not stopping Denzel, is it?
Don’t run. Let’s fight it together.
We can help each other, I know we can.
I guess that only works for… real families.
Even so, Denzel is giving it his all.
Why don’t we face this together, without running away?
Everyone will help, so let’s give it our all!
Since we’re not really family, that’s no good, huh?
I’m not fit to help anyone.
Not my family, not my friends.
If it’s me,
I don’t think I can help anybody.
Whether it’s family or my allies…
Dilly-dally, shilly-shally.
Dilly-dally, shilly-shally!
ragging, dragging
Dragging, dragging!
いつまで引きずってるんだ と
I think she wants you to move on, man.
“How long do you have to be dragged along?”

With exception of the last two lines, it’s all pretty similar. That makes my job easy! Let’s talk about ズルズル (zuruzuru).

Zuru is an onomatopoeic word that describes the sound of sliding. Things like a snake slithering along the ground, dragging one’s feet along the ground just after waking up, and quickly slurping noodles can all be described with zuru. A funny thing about Japanese, however, is that onomatopoeia often ascends into vocabulary in its own right.

A picture of Pikachu using a thunder attack.
The lightning Pokémon Pikachu gets the pika part of its name from the sound of sparkling light. A new toy or a clean dish can be described with pikapika as an adjective.
A picture of a black rabbit next to a fumo plush of Tewi from Touhou.
Mofumofu is the sound of something soft and fluffy, like plushies and rabbits!
A screenshot of Hajimari no Kiseki's Japanese title screen. Very Easy difficulty is selected, and uses "sakusaku" to describe the balance of the combat.
Sakusaku is the sound of crispy, crunchy food, and also describes doing something skillfully and smoothly. For this reason, it’s sometimes used in the description of easy difficulties in games.

So zuruzuru can be used metaphorically to describe something as being slid or dragged. In some contexts, you can use it for something accidentally sliding out of place, like a piece of jewelry or clothing, while in others, it describes something being dragged along against its will. With Reno’s use of 引きずる [hikizuru; to drag (someone) along, to prolong], it’s pretty clear it’s the latter. So, the general idea behind zuruzuru in this scene is that Tifa has to drag Cloud against his will to help out, overcoming his dejection.

The Advent Children localization team was of course dealing with things like mouth flaps and scene length, so a perfect translation is difficult. They also correctly chose not to literally translate it as “drag drag” like I’ve seen some fansubs do. Still, if it were me, I might’ve had Tifa and Reno say something idiomatic, like, “It’s like pulling teeth with you” and “You done dragging your feet, yet?”, if those fit the time constraints.

If you enjoyed this article, the site is gradually filling with others you can check out from the home page. I plan to keep updating at this pace, so please follow me on Twitter, where I can notify you when I add more! Also, if there’s any localization mysteries you’ve always wondered about, feel free to contact me there, or in the comments below.


  1. I know this is hella old now, but I just watched Advent Children in theater and a friend linked me this after the line feels so bizarre.

    However, your explanation is not correct. Shilly-shally isn’t them taking dilly-dally and adding a שמ prefix like you suggest, but shilly-shally itself is a word going back to 17th-ish century meaning “in an irresolute, undecided, or hesitating manner”.

    She is quite literally saying he’s indecisively dragging his feet, and rhyming with two nonsensical sounding words keeps that inherent whimsy that Japanese onomatopoeia has that we generally lack completely in American English.

    Was it a bold choice using silly sounding rhyming words, one of which is rarely used anymore? Absolutely. However, I still retain that it is an absolutely brilliant translation for what is a near impossible line to localize. The bigger problem is Rachel Leigh Cook (who I absolutely adore otherwise) delivered the line terribly, which I blame the voice director more than anything.

    Again, I’m aware this is a fairly old post now, but I thought I’d add to it as well in case anyone came across this again as well and was interested.

    1. Cool read.. I was wondering what she was saying in Japanese when I watched the movie for the first time yesterday. Thank you other commentor for the added context!!

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